Friday Happy Hour Review: When It Comes To Popping The Cork On Happy Hour, Vinted in West Hartford Takes It Seriously

December 4, 2018

Well, after taking the past 4 Fridays off from the Happy Hour circuit to focus on the Holiday Social & Survival Guide for my blog, I got back into my reviewer mode with a visit to Vinted, a wine bar and kitchen, in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square. It came highly recommended from a variety of sources, so I was anxious to see if it would live up to its reputation.

Good Impressions Always Start With A Smile

As regular followers of this blog know, I put a lot of emphasis on the attitude of the bar staff when it comes to my Happy Hour Reviews. And that’s only natural since it’s hard to enjoy a “Happy” Hour when you’re being served by grumpy people. Fortunately, friendly service has been a pleasantly consistent factor in almost all of my Happy Hour visits to this point … and Vinted was no exception.

Victoria, the bartender who took care of me at Vinted, smiled throughout the evening and was a delight!

As I walked in, I was greeted by a smiling hostess who informed me that I could partake of Happy Hour anywhere in the restaurant (a nice touch more places should adopt). Opting for a seat at one of the two bars, I was quickly welcomed by Victoria, the bartender, with menus and a smile. After giving me a few moments to peruse the menu, she returned to take my order.\

When I inquired about special Happy Hour mixed drinks beyond the standard cocktails for $5 (using the specifically listed Happy Hour liquors), she immediately said that she could use these liquors to make a range of more involved drinks, such as a Margarita or Cosmo, for a $2 up charge. Those were the words I wanted to hear! Throughout my time there, Victoria was attentive to my needs and genuinely made me feel like she (and Vinted) appreciated my choosing Vinted for Happy Hour. From the first smile on, Vinted scored perfect marks for service (and attitude)!

Simply Put, It’s All About The Drinks

It kind of goes without saying that the drink menu (and the bartender’s skill at mixing the drinks) can make or break a Happy Hour. Sadly, not every place gets the message as I have discovered. Thankfully, Vinted gets it with quality liquor brands on Happy Hour and the ability to upgrade your drink selection beyond the very basic cocktails. (I should note, of course, that Vinted is primarily a wine bar with an extensive collection. Yet, while I do love good wine, my focus as a mixologist is mixed drinks.)

A Perfect Margarita!

For my first drink, I asked Victoria to make a Margarita ($5 + $2 Upcharge) for me using real lime juice instead of the popular sour mix so many places use. I was thrilled, however, when she informed me that they never use the mix for their Margaritas! That scored points with me right away! What Victoria delivered was an absolute perfect Margarita – refreshing with the tartness of lime and just the ideal touch of sweetness to complement the smooth warmth of the Aztec Azul Silver Tequila (a brand I had not tried before).

An excellent Gin & Tonic!

After savoring every drop of the Margarita, I ordered a Gin & Tonic ($5) to sample the Broker’s Gin. A traditional London Dry Gin done very well, Broker’s embraces the juniper flavor typical of this gin type but with a smoother, more subtle approach that made my Gin & Tonic quite enjoyable,

Apparently, Vinted understands very well that what goes in the glass has a direct correlation to the degree of happiness in Happy Hour.

Not All The Joys of Happy Hour Come From A Glass

Vinted has a fairly extensive Happy Hour Menu with something for everyone!

While it might sound like heresy coming from a mixologist, another major component of Happy Hour enjoyment for many of us is the opportunity to sample a restaurant’s cuisine as well as its attention to the finer details of food preparation. In many instances, I have discovered extraordinary delights, such as the Pork Ribs ($8) on Vinted’s Happy Hour Menu. On the menu, it simply reads Pork Ribs and then underneath … Hot & Sour Sauce/Mango/Lime/Mint.

What actually arrived was nothing short of heaven on a board – four meaty ribs generously coated with the hot & sour sauce, pieces of mango and mint leaves. Victoria advised squirting the lime on the ribs to get the full enjoyment of the sauce, which I did. Fall off the bone tender with just the right amount of surface crunch, these ribs were spicy hot, satisfyingly savory and absolutely fabulous.

Vinted just kept racking up points!

Ambiance Can Make Any Place Feel Inviting … Or Not

The final piece to determining if a Happy Hour stands out as welcoming or as something to be avoided is the overall atmosphere. Admittedly, I have walked into some places and immediately walked right back out because it was obviously not a place I’d feel comfortable. On the other hand, some aspects of ambiance can only be judged while you’re sitting at the bar. Beyond the attitude of the bartender and the quality of the drinks and food, the style of the bar, its cleanliness level and the overall vibes from the other folks around you can make a bar feel very comfortable or ruin your whole experience.

Again, Vinted has created a very inviting space that’s warm with a modern vibe and just cozy enough to allow for conversation without being confining. While there I happened to meet a wine rep, Alli, and we spent most of my visit chatting about the business and occasionally chatting with Victoria.

Check off ambiance as another winner for Vinted.

***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***

As you may have guessed, Vinted has earned my highest rating of ***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***!!! And while many Happy Hours in West Hartford have also earned this distinction, each one has its own unique personality that makes it worth experiencing. Vinted distinguishes itself on a number of levels which combine to create a Happy Hour that stands on its own for superior service, drinks, food, and ambiance.

Learn more about Vinted on their web site at vinted.com then go see Victoria this coming Friday for Happy Hour and tell her The Dark Diva sent you!

Share The Holiday Spirit(s) With Create-Your-Own Spirits of Connecticut Gift Sets

November 27, 2018

As the Christmas countdown starts to accelerate (technically time passes at the same rate, but it sure feels like it speeds up when it comes to getting ready for the holidays), finding the perfect gifts can always be a challenge. Hopefully, you got some ideas from our last post (The Dark Diva’s Holiday Social & Survival Guide Part 3: Gifts For Drink Lovers Made Easy, Fun & Unique). And in this post, we’re going to expand on that theme with suggestions on how to create your own unique “Spirits of Connecticut” gift sets that will surprise and delight any drink lover on your list.

Creativity Counts, But There Are A Few Rules

Okay, I get what you’re thinking – how can you be creative when there are rules? Like them or not, there are always some rules you have to consider. These shouldn’t really impair your inventiveness, but they are important.

1) I shouldn’t even have to post this rule, but just to make sure there is no misunderstanding. RECIPIENTS OF THESE GIFT SETS MUST BE AT LEAST 21 YEARS OF AGE! That’s the law, and it’s just plain good sense.

2) There are some special rules governing shipping alcohol, so check with your carrier before attempting to ship one of these gift sets to someone. (Also pack the contents carefully even if delivering it yourself or you could ruin more than the surprise.)

And that’s pretty much it. So, really not that much to worry about. Now let’s get to the fun stuff!

Use Your Imagination And Have Some Fun
(But Save Some of The Spirits to
Actually Put In The Gift Set!)

Caught ya! Miss Bri knows all the tricks (not that I’ve ever done any of them of course … er … ummm … well … never mind)! While I’ve suggested the specific spirits and a few other contents, feel free to add other things like a CT-themed shot glass, mixers or anything else that comes to mind. That extends to how you package it as well, whether it’s a crate, a basket, a box or whatever. (Also, I’ve specified products from craft-distillers I’ve reviewed so far. If you are familiar with one I haven’t visited, feel free to use their products though it may make a difference in how some of my suggested cocktails taste due to potentially different flavor profiles.)

The Spirits of Connecticut:
Cool As A Connecticut Cuke Gift Set

For anyone who enjoys a refreshing Gin & Tonic, this gift set promises a definite twist of cool taste and attitude.

Suggested Contents:

• WAYPOINT SPIRITS CRAFT-DISTILLED WINTONBERRY GIN (750 ML)
(Lighter and more refreshing than typical gins, with an infusion of locally sourced botanical and floral elements, Wintonberry is made from locally-sourced ingredients.)
• WILD MOON® CUCUMBER LIQUEUR (375 ML)
• WILD MOON® LIME LIQUEUR (375 ML)
(Crafted locally by Hartford Flavor Company, these authentic-tasting, delicious liqueurs are all-natural and gluten-free.)
• ROCKS GLASS WITH A CT THEME
(I used my own recently acquired Waypoint Spirits Rocks Glass ($6) as a suggested inclusion. A Wild Moon® glass would also make an excellent addition to the set.)

RECIPE

The Dark Diva’s “Cool As A Cuke Sin & Tonic”
AKA The Twisted Chiller

I found that Wintonberry Gin, Wild Moon® Cucumber & Wild Moon® Lime mix well with a wild hair for fun refreshment in the sun. Why “Sin & Tonic” you ask? (Seriously, if you have to ask, check your pulse because you may be dead.)

In a glass with ice, combine the following:

1 oz. Waypoint Spirits Wintonberry Gin
0.5 oz. Wild Moon® Cucumber Liqueur
4 oz. Diet Tonic Water
(Diet? Yes, if you’re going to sin, go for sex, booze, rock ‘n’ roll, chocolate, fun stuff — not useless sugar in tonic water)
A Splash of Wild Moon® Lime Liqueur

 Mix well and garnish with either a slice of cucumber or a lime wheel if desired. Cheers!

The Spirits of Connecticut:
A Berry Cheery Holiday Gift Set

All the classic ingredients plus a few additions for a fresh holiday twist on a classic cocktail!

Suggested Contents:

• WAYPOINT SPIRITS CRAFT-DISTILLED LABRADOR NOON VODKA (750 ML)
(Very smooth with virtually no harsh alcohol burn, Labrador Noon is exceptionally mixable or fine as shot.)
• WILD MOON® CRANBERRY LIQUEUR (375 ML)
(Crafted locally by Hartford Flavor Company, this authentic-tasting, delicious liqueur is all-natural and gluten-free.)
• SMIRNOFF® RASPBERRY VODKA (750 ML)
(While not a craft spirit, Smirnoff is distilled in CT.)
• ROCKS OR MARTINI GLASS (WITH A CT THEME)
STANLEY® SCREWDRIVER SET (OPTIONAL) 
(Stanley® Tools are made in CT.)

RECIPE:

Santa’s Berry Twisted Stanley Screwdriver

Another holiday concoction from The Dark Diva’s “La-Bar-Atory” with all CT alcohols, this is a great treat for Santa’s helpers when dealing with “some assembly required” surprises late on Christmas Eve nights!!! (I recommend finishing the assembly before finishing too many of these concoctions!)

Fill rocks glass OR shaker with ice, then mix:

1 oz. Waypoint Spirits Labrador Noon Vodka
0.5 oz. Wild Moon® Cranberry Liqueur
0.5 oz. Smirnoff® Raspberry Vodka
3 oz. Orange Juice

Stir in rocks glass and serve OR shake and strain into a chilled martini glass!
Ho! Ho! Cheers! 

The Spirits of Connecticut:
Every Day’s A Twisted Holiday Gift Set

This versatile gift set is the basis for two of my special recipes, but I’m sure the recipients won’t stop there. One of my recipes is also great for warm weather so they can literally make any day a holiday.

• WAYPOINT SPIRITS CRAFT-DISTILLED
MAN OVERBOARD SPICED RUM
(750 ML)
(A bit lighter and smoother than other spiced rums I’ve tried, this the first one I enjoyed enough to actually buy and use.)
• WILD MOON® CRANBERRY LIQUEUR (375 ML)
• WILD MOON® LIME LIQUEUR (375 ML)
(Crafted locally by Hartford Flavor Company, these authentic-tasting, delicious liqueurs are all-natural and gluten-free.)
• ROCKS GLASS (WITH A CT THEME)

RECIPES:

Twisted Mystic Rumberry Cocktail

Naming this cocktail was almost too easy! The image of sailors coming ashore in Mystic to quench their thirst with rum combined with traditional cranberries for the holidays led to this cheery year-round refresher.

In rocks glass filled with ice, mix;

1.0 oz. Waypoint Spirits Man Overboard Spiced Rum
0.5 oz. Wild Moon® Cranberry Liqueur
0.5 oz. Wild Moon® Lime Liqueur
2.0 oz. Diet Cranberry Juice

Stir and serve! Just try not to go overboard! Cheers!

Twisted Windsor Nutmegger Eggnog

Honoring CT’s first town and featuring all CT spirits, this smooth hen’s moo concoction is a perfectly potent and nicely spiced way to celebrate the holidays with friends.

In rocks glass filled with ice, mix;

1.5 oz. Waypoint Spirits Man Overboard Spiced Rum
0.5 oz. Wild Moon® Cranberry Liqueur
3.0 oz. Eggnog
A Sprinkle of Nutmeg

Stir, serve and toast the season! Cheers!

***Gift Guide Update***

Since last week’s blog post, there have been a few updates in our Gifting Guide.

NEW! Waypoint Spirits Sampler Set

Waypoint Spirits Sampler Gift Set

Waypoint Spirits in Bloomfield has just introduced a Sampler Set featuring six 100 ml bottles of their signature craft-distilled liquors, including Labrador Noon Vodka, Wintonberry Gin, Man Overboard Spiced Rum and Spicy XIII Vodka. Priced at $40, the set comes in a wood-slat crate with rope carrying handle. Contact them at drinkwaypoint.com for more details.

REMINDER! Hartford Flavor Company Hours

Just a reminder that you can stop by Hartford Flavor Company Monday – Thursday during the holiday season from 9-5 to purchase Wild Moon® Liqueurs and merchandise only. (Tours and tastings are Friday evenings, Saturday afternoons and Sunday afternoons only.) Contact them at hartfordflavor.com for more details.

Let us know if you have questions or anything to share!

 

 

The Dark Diva’s Holiday Social & Survival Guide Part 3: Gifts For Drink Lovers Made Easy, Fun & Unique

November 20, 2018

So now we’ve reached the final part of our Holiday Social & Survival Guide with tips on unique gift ideas, including custom cocktails, for your favorite drink lovers, from those who just appreciate drinks and alcohols with new and intriguing flavors to those with discriminating taste for distilling excellence to serious mixologists.

Share The Joy (literally):
Take Them Out To A Craft Distillery
Or A Top Happy Hour

Kelly, our tour & spirit guide at Hartford Flavor Company in Hartford describing the various liqueurs we are about to sample!

What better gift to give than one you can share like a tasting at a local craft distillery or a top reviewed Happy Hour. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t love this gift. It’s thoughtful, fun and can be fairly reasonable, especially a distillery tasting.

Craft Distillery Tours & Tastings

The Tasting Bar of Wild Moon(R) Liqueurs that’s part of the tour at Hartford Flavor Company.

If you’re in Connecticut, there are a number of craft distillers across the state, although not all offer tours and/or tastings. You can find a list of craft distillers here with links to more information. Create a nice, formal invitation for the recipient(s) to be your guest(s) for a tour & tasting, as your Christmas gift to them, on a specific date over the holidays (or after).

Melissa, our bartender/spirit guide, pours samples for guests at the Tasting Bar of Waypoint Spirits in Bloomfield, CT!

I have visited and reviewed two of these craft distillers in the greater Hartford area, which I can personally recommend: Hartford Flavor Company in Hartford and Waypoint Spirits in Bloomfield. Both offer affordable Saturday and Sunday afternoon tours

Connor was our enthusiastic and knowledgeable tour guide at Waypoint Spirits.

and tastings, although hours may vary during the holidays. (Click on their respective names to visit their web sites for details and contact information.) It’s a great way to get acquainted with the distiller’s art and try something new. The guides do a great job of engaging guests and conveying a lot of information in an entertaining manner.

Top Reviewed Happy Hours

Grant’s Flirtini

Check through local reviews online (such as Miss Bri’s Fresh & Twisted Blog) to find fresh, interesting Happy Hours, and treat special friends to a visit during the holidays. You’ll find some recommendations for Happy Hours to visit in the greater Hartford area listed here with links to my reviews. Going out for Happy Hour at some place new can be a really nice treat for everyone.

Click on the name to read my review, which also includes a link to the location’s web site:

Bloomfield

The Republic Gastropub

Manchester

Bistro On Main
Plaza Azteca

South Windsor

Burtons Bar & Grill
Mill On The River
Red Heat Tavern
Ted’s Montana Grill

West Hartford

Blue Elephant Trail
Grant’s Restaurant & Bar
Max’s Oyster Bar
Zohara Mediterranean Kitchen

 

Pour On The Thoughtfulness:
Give Them Craft Distilled Liquors & Liqueurs
As Well As Distinctive Barware

 

Want to wrap up your Christmas shopping with a twist? Then surprise your
favorite drink lover with something different – a bottle of liquid goodness from a local craft distiller. Here are just a few suggestions from craft distillers in the greater Hartford area.

The Wild Moon® Liqueurs Variety Pack

Featuring 100ml bottles of six different Wild Moon® liqueurs (Lime, Cucumber, Lavender, Rose, Birch and Chai Spice), this is a great introduction to these all-natural, gluten-free spirits that are crafted in Hartford by the Hartford Flavor Company. The variety pack and a range of other Hartford Flavor Company/Wild Moon® themed products (barware, shirts and more) are available at the Hartford Flavor Company. Visit their web site here for more details.

Waypoint Spirits

Waypoint Spirits Craft Distilled Honey Habanero Flavored Whiskey

Show your friends that you are a thoughtful and perceptive person with excellent tastes by giving them one of Waypoint Spirits’ locally crafted liquors (distilled in Bloomfield), such as Labrador Noon Vodka (a very smooth, premium-style vodka), Wintonbury Gin (botanically infused, more in the mold of Hendrick’s with less juniper flavor), and Small Batch Honey Habanero Flavored Whiskey (the spice is right for those who like a little firewater). Visit their web site here for details.

Barware

A set of 4 initialed or monogrammed Old-Fashioned or On-The-Rocks glasses makes a beautifully distinctive and highly appreciated gift for any mixologists. A bar mat for mixing, a good quality shaker and durable bar tools also make nice gifts for your favorite mixologist. You can find them online at Amazon and Bar & Vine as well as locally at places as diverse as Williams Sonoma and Target.

Give A Gift That Is Totally Unique:
Their Own Custom-Crafted Cocktail Recipe
From The Dark Diva

Whether you want a truly one-of-a-kind gift for someone very special or a perfectly themed cocktail to take a special holiday event to the next level, nothing compares to the cocktail crafting wizardry and backstory creativity of The Dark Diva.

Here’s what a recent client said of the three custom-crafted cocktails I created for an event she planned:

“I wanted to let you know that last night was a great success especially with the signature cocktails! The ranks were split between the Velvet Voodoo Martini (… my favorite) and the Purple Magic Martini. I think the Autumn Paradise would have done better but for the literal heat wave that hit us yesterday afternoon (!) which made it hard to get in the groove for fall LOL …”

And her guests concurred:

“What a wonderfully fun evening!  How clever to have a signature cocktail tasting.  That Velvet Voodoo Martini was so sweet and smooth – I wanted to slip into a bathtub full of it!”

“Purple Magic Martini – this was simply scrumptious! Fruity without being too sweet, and I like sweet!

“Autumn Paradise Martini – As someone who hates Autumn, I wasn’t even going to try this one between the pumpkin and butterscotch, BUT, the flavors blended well, and it truly was a treat, not a trick!”

Created for a party of stressed out executive assistants, these colorfully named custom-crafted cocktails also included a short story with them. (I don’t share the recipe specifics publicly, however, since they now belong to the client which assures they will remain unique.)

The Velvet Voodoo Martini
(AKA The Karma’s A Bitch Martini)

Sometimes when you’re at the end of your rope, all you want to do is make a noose out of it and hang your boss. For anyone who is overworked and underappreciated by a ridiculously demanding boss, The Velvet Voodoo Martini is made with dark magic (Irish spirits, exotic spices and sneakily irresistible flavors) that will give you sweet velvet dreams of the moment when you just walk out and leave your boss completely helpless. And, just maybe, your boss will have the same dream. If it doesn’t scare him/her to death, it should at least scare them into showing more appreciation for all you do. (Just for fun, look up poisons on Google frequently so your boss can see it. Later, tell him/her you have to meet the exterminator at your house about poisoning some rats and ask if he/she wants you to pick up lunch for them – be very insistent. That should give them pause. Haha!)

The Diva’s Purple Magic Martini
(AKA “Beam Me Up Scotty,
There’s No Intelligent Life down Here!” Martini)

This concoction is made for those days when everyone you have deal with is an ill-tempered, impatient moron who couldn’t find their butt with both hands and directions. No matter how simply and patiently you try to explain to them that what they want is not what they need, not reasonable or just simply impossible, they have all the comprehension of a two-year-old, so they pitch a fit. While you can’t do what you feel like doing to them (unless you have lots of money, access to the dark web to hire a hitman, and an ironclad alibi), you can make them all magically disappear for a while with this deliciously sweet escape that will let you boldly go where no where no boss can find you!

The Autumn Paradise Martini
(AKA “The Leaf Me Alone, I’m Having A Moment” Martini)

Like a walk through the woods on a glorious autumn afternoon, with the fresh crispness of a cool fall breeze as the bright sunshine brings nature’s spectacular palette of scarlet, gold, yellow, green and rust to vivid life, this is a moment to savor in a New England paradise. No demanding bosses. No uncooperative co-workers. No screaming kids. No annoying spouse. Now that moment is yours in a glass with The Autumn Paradise Martini. Just forget everything and chill with every sip, after warning everyone that they might encounter the Grim Reaper if they disturb your moment (or moments) in Autumn Paradise!

Learn more about my custom-crafted cocktails for events and gifts here. You can also email me: MissBri@thedarkdivarules.com.

Act now! Don’t wait, because I expect to get booked out fast!

Hopefully, you’ve found some ideas here that will make your holiday gift-giving experience easy and fun!

Hope you have a wonderfully enjoyable and safe holiday season!

The Dark Diva’s Holiday Social & Survival Guide Part 2: Stocking Your Holiday Bar & Drink Suggestions

November 17, 2018*


*(This post was originally slated to be online yesterday, but I was a bit under the weather. My apologies for the delay.)

Welcome to Part 2 of our Holiday Social & Survival Guide, which covers stocking your bar as well as drink suggestions for entertaining to help you and your guests beter enjoy your Holiday 2018 parties and gatherings.

Two Critical Rules To Celebrate By

Whatever else you do this holiday season, here are some critical rules for a safer and happier holiday.

1) DRINK & SERVE ALCOHOL RESPONSIBLY!

This should be a no-brainer, but almost all of us have violated this rule at some point. The problem arises from continuing to do it just because you got away with it before. Eventually, it’s like playing Russian roulette – somebody’s going to get hurt. Don’t take the risk this holiday!!!

• If you suspect a guest has consumed too much, don’t let them get behind the wheel. Call them a cab, an Uber or have them sleep it off in your spare bedroom or the sofa in the den. (Not only could they end up in an accident or arrested for DUI, but you could be liable as well!)

• When serving punch, don’t make it too strong! Often when alcohol is mixed in a punch, people don’t realize how much they’re drinking.

• Carefully consider your guest list and avoid inviting “problems” if you can.

• Pace yourself! You can’t be a very good host/hostess if you’re wasted!

2) CELEBRATE WITHIN YOUR MEANS!

We all tend to overspend during the holidays and usually end up regretting it later on. So, this year, plan to stay within your budget when stocking your bar and hosting get-togethers. It’s actually easier than you think.

• Instead of a multitude of expensive parties, invite friends, neighbors and co-workers to a single holiday open house with appetizers, snacks and a punch, themed drinks or wine.

Don’t use expensive liquors in making punches. It’s a waste because very few people will ever know the difference.

Avoid offering an open bar unless you’re entertaining a very small group (1 – 3 couples). Otherwise, it becomes an expensive hassle.

• When stocking your holiday bar, think about who you will be entertaining and how much you can really afford to spend. You don’t have to buy the most expensive brands. In most cases, there are more affordable options that will easily fit the need.

How To Stock Your Holiday Bar

First of all, there are as many options for stocking your holiday bar as there are holiday traditions. However, here are some basic guidelines you can follow to get started. Every decently stocked personal bar/liquor cabinet should contain the following:

 Whiskey/Whisky
(Watch my video on this here.)

Bourbon
(Maker’s Mark®)

Scotch
(Johnnie Walker® Black Blended and/or
Glenfiddich® 15-Year Old Highland Single Malt)

Irish Whiskey
(Black Bush®)

Vodka
(Watch my video on this here.)


(Svedka® and/or Ketel One®
 depending on budget and usage)

(Tito’s® if you need gluten-free)

Gin

(Tanqueray® or Bombay Sapphire®)

Basic Liqueurs & More

Irish Cream

Kahlua®

Cognac

Dry Vermouth

Additional Liqueurs
(if available)

All-natural and gluten-free, the following liqueurs are made locally in Hartford, Connecticut, and gaining ever-increasing distribution around the country.

Wild Moon® Lime Liqueur

Wild Moon® Cranberry Liqueur

These alcohols offer a good basis for making a wide variety of popular drinks as well as providing a good flavor where it is especially critical. From this base, you can expand your bar to include rum, tequila, flavored vodkas and various liqueurs as budget and taste allow.

In addition, you will need tonic water, limes or lime juice, and olives. Various fruit juices also come in handy for mixing with the vodka.

***NOTE: I have omitted Tequila and Rum from the basics for stocking your Holiday Bar, because they tend to be more appropriate for spring and summer drinks.  At the same time, if you or friends enjoy Tequila (it’s frequently a liquor of choice for me), then I recommend 1800® Silver as a reasonably-priced, good quality brand. As for Rum, which tends to be more frequently used in seasonal punches and eggnog than in holiday cocktails, I recommend Bacardi® Gold.)

Holiday Drink Tips

Here are some time-saving and enjoyable drink options for various holiday situations.

For a holiday brunch:

• Set up a Bloody Mary bar where guests can make their own drinks with vodka, low-sodium V8, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco® sauce, lime wedges, black pepper and celery stalks.

Mimosas are popular and easy to make with orange juice and champagne, prosecco, or an Asti.

Screwdrivers (OJ and vodka) are easy to make in advance so you can just shake/stir and pour as needed. (I recommend that you mix them at a ratio of 4 or 5 parts OJ to every 1 part of vodka so that no one gets “surprised” by the effects.)

For large parties/open houses:

A red fruit-based punch with vodka or rum
(I typically use Ocean Spray Diet Cran-Mango and Diet Cran-Pineapple in equal parts with a liter of lemon-lime seltzer and Svedka® vodka in the ratio of 4 or 5 parts of non-alcoholic punch mix to 1 part of vodka. The size of your punch bowl will determine how much to make at a time. Also save some of the punch before adding alcohol for anyone who prefers their punch unleaded.)

• Depending on the weather in your area at this time of year, mulled wine or warmed apple cider with brandy can be tasty options.

Small sippers are shot glass sized servings of something smooth and sweet like my Twisted Pilgrim
(Mix equal parts Bailey’s® Pumpkin Spice Irish Cream and Pinnacle® Whipped® Vodka.)*
I suggest that you serve these early and limit the quantity.
*(I have not seen Bailey’s® Pumpkin Spice Irish Cream in my area this year so far. If it’s not available in your area, try mixing a ratio of 1 part Irish Cream with 1/2 part Captain Morgan™ Jack-O-Blast Pumpkin Spiced Rum and 1/2 part Pinnacle® Whipped® Vodka. If you prefer it less sweet, replace the whipped vodka with vanilla vodka.)

• And, of course, there is the traditional eggnog which you can spike in advance with either whiskey (usually bourbon), rum or brandy/cognac. Again, I recommend a ratio of around 4 or 5 parts eggnog to 1 part alcohol if you’re serving guests.

Hopefully, this will help make your holiday entertaining easier and more enjoyable.

Also, look for a unique gift-giving idea in Part 3 of our guide which should be online Tuesday 11/20!

The Dark Diva’s Holiday Social & Survival Guide Part 1: Make The Season More Fun Without The Stress

November 12, 2018

(Note: We’re actually a day ahead of our usual Tuesday posting for a change. Can’t guarantee it will happen again anytime soon. Haha)

Wow! It’s hard to believe that next Thursday is Thanksgiving already! How is it that the holiday season seems to take us by surprise every year? I think there are a couple of dynamics involved starting with the fact that Christmas gets promoted earlier and earlier to the point that we try to ignore it out of contempt until it’s suddenly upon us and we go into panic mode. At the same time, our lives are so busy we can’t seem to find the time to prepare too far in advance for anything beyond getting through tomorrow.

Whatever the case, it doesn’t really matter how we got here, since we are here. The key is how to cope with the holidays and make the most of them. And the first step is to rethink your expectations.

#1) The Holidays Are Perfectly Enjoyable
When You Don’t Strive For Perfection

Still life of large blue Christmas ornaments and strings of red beads.

Say what? Think about it. We spend so much time trying to create perfect holiday moments that we’re too stressed out to enjoy ourselves. In fact, we can end up making the holiday memorable for all the wrong reasons. So, change your mantra to “let’s have fun without obsessing about it” this year. And part of that is recognizing that there are limits on your time, your budget and your mental/emotional stamina. The first two are fairly obvious, but also remember that we all have limits to how much we can plan, prep and socialize before we start to overload. And we all have different limits. The key is to plan fewer things and enjoy each one more or plan more things while making them all simpler.

Watching your budget is pretty important, because it is ridiculously easy to

Christmas wreath on door.

overspend on social events during the holidays. And that can lead to a holiday financial hangover as well as relationship issues. Allow yourself one social event “splurge” without going overboard. This will make staying within budget feel less constraining. Plus, follow my tips for having more affordable holiday fun.

The same idea applies to not overscheduling your time. Allow for one or two major parties/events, while spreading out other events over the whole season and making them smaller and simpler.

#2) Celebrate Holiday Happy Hours
As An Alternative To Parties/Dinners

Bistro on Main in Manchester captures the spirit of French bistro — warmly intimate atmosphere and some very tasty treats.

Meeting friends or co-workers at Happy Hour during the holidays is a good way to socialize and celebrate the season without spending a lot of time or money. If you stick with the Happy Hour food and drink specials, you can get by for an average of $15 – $30 per person (before tip) for 2 drinks and 1 – 2 food items from the Happy Hour Menu.

Compared to dinner out with friends, Happy Hour allows you to explore different venues and try more interesting cocktails and foods for l

The Lamb Cigars ($2 each) at Zohara Mediterranean Kitchen in West Hartford offer a deliciously fresh perspective on Happy hour foods!

ess money without having to worry about making reservations (which can be difficult to get in the first place) around schedule conflicts and having to cancel/re-schedule reservations due to last-minute emergencies. Plus, you have time to shop afterwards or go home and just relax.

Compared to hosting parties, there’s no cleanup (before or after) when you meet friends at a

The “too much thyme” cocktail at The Cook and The Bear in West Hartford is a deliciously surprising blend of tequila, thyme, blackberry and lemon!

Happy Hour. You also don’t have to plan a menu and drink options, worry about spending for a lot of food that will go to waste, or deal with intoxicated guests or guests who won’t leave. You can show up for Happy Hour, share some holiday cheer and leave when you’re ready. (Also, most Happy Hours only last 2 to 3 hours, so that’s always a great excuse to leave.)

For those of you in the greater Hartford area of Connecticut, the following Happy Hour venues have earned my highest rating of ***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***!.

Click on the name to read my review, which also includes a link to the location’s web site:

Bloomfield

The Republic Gastropub

Manchester

Bistro On Main
Plaza Azteca

South Windsor

Burtons Bar & Grill
Mill On The River
Red Heat Tavern
Ted’s Montana Grill

West Hartford

Blue Elephant Trail
Grant’s Restaurant & Bar
Max’s Oyster Bar
Zohara Mediterranean Kitchen

Another nice thing about the Holiday Happy Hours is you can get started right now with your get-togethers!

Hope you’ve found Part 1 of our Holiday Social & Survival Guide to be helpful in making it easier to enjoy the season this year. Coming up in Part 2 on Friday, I’ll offer recommendations for stocking your holiday bar as well as some general drink recommendations to make entertaining easier. And in Part 3 next week, we’ll present some gift ideas for those in your life who appreciate spirits with a twist!

Be Safe, Happy and Relaxed This Holiday Season!

Friday Happy Hour Review: Red Heat Tavern Looks to Fire Up The Local Happy Hour Competition In South Windsor/Manchester

November 6, 2018

***Today is Election Day in the U.S., so please go vote!***

This past Friday, I visited Red Heat Tavern at Evergreen Walk in South Windsor. While aware that it was relatively new, I hadn’t realized they had just opened in June of this year until talking with Manager Taylor O’Neill at the end of my visit. If I had known beforehand, I might have elected to postpone my review. However, based on my experience Friday, they didn’t need a break.

Part of the Burtons Bar & Grill chain , which also has a location in Evergreen Walk, Red Heat Tavern has four other locations (all in neighboring Massachusetts) while positioning itself as a place where “… passion for great food is fueled by fire, flavor and friends.” So, how did they do when the Friday Happy Hour heat was on?

Sparked By Smiles,
Service Was Smokin’

Upon arriving around 4 PM on Friday, the seats at the Red Heat Tavern bar were already starting to fill up. Fortunately, I found a few empty seats at the far end next to the service bar area. (The décor was a somewhat similar to that of The Cook and the Bear in West Hartford – what I call urban rustic. It’s an eclectic mix of modern, industrial and classic BBQ joint all rolled into one that actually works well.) Nikki*, my bartender, was bubbly and enthusiastic during my time there. She easily answered all my questions about the drink and food choices (the Happy Hour menu doesn’t elaborate enough on the offerings —  a point I raised with the manager), cheerfully responded to my request to make my Margarita with lime juice instead of the mix, and made an excellent suggestion for my second drink by recommending the Jim Beam Black Mule.
*(Unfortunately, her shift ended, and she left before I could get a picture or the correct spelling of her name.)

Red Hot Deals,
Icy Cool Drinks

The $5 Happy Hour Margarita at Red Heat Tavern. (Made to my order with lime juice instead of mix.)

A $5 price point for mixed drinks is essentially the popular Happy Hour standard. What makes the price hot or not is what you get for that price. Red Heat Tavern offers Sangrias, Margaritas and Mules that have some telling differences. While I ordered my Margarita with lime juice instead of the mix to avoid heartburn, you can get various flavors of the mix. (My Margarita was a bit tart and could have used either a touch more Triple Sec or some agave, but it grew on me.)

The Jim Beam Black Happy Hour Mule for $5 at Red Heat Tavern. (A surprisingly different and tasty mule.)

The Jim Beam Black Mule, on the other hand, was a totally unexpected pleasure. While I’m normally not a big fan of base bourbon brands like Jim Beam* and Jack Daniels, the Jim Beam Black is extra aged compared to regular Jim Beam (8 years vs. 4 years) which results in a smoother taste that works very well with the sweetness of the Mule to create an intriguing and enjoyable libation.
*(I should, in the interest of full disclosure, note that my typical bourbon of choice – Maker’s Mark, is a small-batch bourbon made by Jim Beam.)

If You Love The Heat,
Order From This Kitchen

Whether you call them bar bites, appetizers or small plates, the food offerings at Happy Hour should serve two purposes. First, they soak up some of the alcohol, so it doesn’t make you too buzzed too quick (assuming you are limiting your intake and not pouring drinks down). Secondly, depending on the offerings, it can be a good (and cheaper) way to test a restaurant’s menu to see if you want to eat a regular meal there.

The Happy Hour Dry-Rubbed Boneless Chicken Wings ($1 each) at Red Heat Tavern. (Nice heat and the meat was tender!)

At Red Heat Tavern, the mesquite-marinated wings are the best example of what they mean by fire and flavor. Priced at $1 each, your wing options consist of bone-in or boneless with a choice of Dry Rubseasoned with 11 herbs and spices, Buffalo, and Sweet Thai. I selected 3 of the boneless Dry Rub wings, which came out with a nice coating of seasoning that was flavorful with a slow-building heat. The slow heat lets you savor it and enjoy it longer versus the immediate fire of a Buffalo-style sauce. The chicken wings themselves were tender and moist, from first bite to last.

Happy Hour Fried Pickles at Red Heat Tavern. (A lot fried pickles for $5, so it’s plenty for 2 people.)

For my second choice, I tried the Fried Pickles for $5 served with a sriracha aioli. As soon as they arrived, I realized that this is an option best suited for two or more people because they do not skimp on the quantity. I ate and ate, but it still looked like I hadn’t even made a dent in the number of fried pickle chips in front of me. These house-made, battered bread and butter pickles were nicely fried for a crispy texture and brought the heat both from being freshly fried and from the batter itself.

***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***

While I do feel like the Happy Hour menu could use some additions and some better descriptions of the offerings, Manager Taylor O’Neill said they are planning to make some enhancements now that they’re been up and running for a while. However, that discussion really didn’t factor into my evaluation. At this point, based on my experience, I feel the Friday Happy Hour service, drinks and food offerings at Red Heat Tavern worthy of my highest rating of ***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***!

Visit the main web site at redheattavern.com for more information, including the full menu, hours, etc. Then drop by this Friday from 3 PM – 6 PM to check out their Happy Hour for yourself and let me know what you think!

Tell them The Dark Diva sent you!

Friday Happy hour Review: Zohara Mediterranean Kitchen in West Hartford Spices Up Happy Hour With Unexpected Pleasures

October 30, 2018

This past Friday, we had the opportunity to explore another fresh adventure on our international Friday Happy Hour tour with a visit to Zohara Mediterranean Kitchen in West Hartford. According to their website, they offer “… an innovative menu drawing influence and inspiration from North Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Turkey and Greece…” which was solidly evidenced during our Happy Hour experience. It is also a reminder that enjoying food and drink from other cultures is part of appreciating those cultures and the world we live in. If we can break bread together and toast each other, then we can share friendship and respect.

The Influence of Mediterranean Hospitality
Shines In The Warm Welcome And Friendly Service

With lots of windows opening toward Farmington Avenue and an uncluttered, contemporary interior design. Zohara has a surprisingly bright, open feeling that defies traditional stereotypes of what a Mediterranean restaurant should look like. On the other hand, the service exemplifies the strong emphasis on hospitality across cultures throughout the region.

Zohara hospitality — bartenders Stephanie (L) and Victoria (R) were all smiles and attentiveness.

Stephanie, who was thebartender when I arrived, was all smiles and patience as she answered my questions about the drinks and the food. One of the first questions she asked me was if I had any food allergies or issues before making any recommendations. A simple but important question, especially when the menu featured a lot of unfamiliar terms. (I’m still trying to master my native English and have just enough exposure to some of the romance languages –Spanish, French, Italian — to get myself in trouble, but beyond that I’m totally lost.)

As Happy Hour started to pick up, Stephanie was joined behind the bar by Victoria. Both were attentive, delightfully friendly and constantly smiling as if they really enjoyed what they were doing. It left me with a good feeling about Zohara and a desire to come back again. And that’s how hospitality is done right!

Surprising Cocktail Ingredients Reward The Adventurous
With Unexpected Enjoyment

While I constantly look for Happy Hour cocktails that are unique, the cocktails at Zohara featured some ingredients that gave me pause, such as carrot juice and especially beet juice. I confess that the carrot juice was an easier choice for me to accept than the beet juice. Growing up, I hated it when my mother cooked beets. I simply couldn’t stand them. However, a mixologist and reviewer must make sacrifices for her work, so I bit the proverbial bullet and was totally surprised.

The 24 Carrot was delicious surprise! Gotta love that carrot juice!

My first drink was the 24 Carrot (Vodka, Cardamom, Carrot Juice, Honey & Lemon) for $6. It was refreshingly bright with a lively tartness that was tempered perfectly by the underlying sweetness. It’s the kind of drink that can change your perspective on even a terrible Friday and lighten your mood. It is a apparently very popular with Zohara’s customers and definitely a must try!

The Root Down was quite amazing! Who knew you could make a tasty cocktail with beet juice!?

My second drink was ordered with a bit of trepidation. In fact, I postponed the decision longer than usual, but in the end said, “Let’s do it!” The drink in question was the Root Down (Bourbon, Dry Curacao, Beet Juice, Star Anise, Lemon Juice & Turmeric) also for $6. Befitting the name, there was an initial earthiness to the taste which slowly grew into a pleasing warmth. I was totally amazed at how the combination worked so well together and actually recommend it!

This is a Happy Hour where you can live adventurously and taste new worlds! Go for it!

A Satisfying Journey Into Intriguing Flavors
Awaits Those Who Ditch Wings And Really Fly

The Happy Hour menu at Zohara is quite extraordinary!

Wings have become ubiquitous at American Happy Hours. And while I do enjoy wings sometimes, I crave more interesting fare to go with my drinks. Fortunately, Zohara goes to great lengths to be different with foods that will wake up your taste buds. It’s a fresh approach to spices and textures as well as main ingredients that may be individually familiar but presented in an unexpected fashion.

My second order of Lamb Cigars! Very tasty!

As part of that unexpected fashion, I was fascinated by their Famous Moroccan Lamb Cigars on the menu. I will confess that I love lamb just about any way you can fix it, so I simply had to try a Moroccan Lamb Cigar. Essentially, it’s spiced ground lamb wrapped in phyllo dough that resembles a long cigar. It comes out crispy and is served with a cucumber yogurt dipping sauce. The lamb was simply delicious with a hint of cinnamon and its texture worked nicely with the crunch of the phyllo shell while the cucumber yogurt added a cooling freshness to the mix. The first one was so good, I had to order two more. And at only $2 each, you’ll want to order several yourself.

For my second appetizer, I opted for the Lamb Kofta for $5. Essentially a lamb kabob, it featured two pieces of grilled lamb with tomato, onion and a hot pepper plus a pita pocket to make a sandwich. Again, another wonderful mix of flavor and texture that made eating exciting … and fun. (Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the picture I took of the Lamb Kofta didn’t turn out until after I had eaten it. Oops.)

When you’re ready to treat your taste buds to something fresh, start here!

***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***

I’m sure by now you have no doubt about my rating for Friday Happy Hour at Zohara. From the atmosphere and service to the drinks and food, Zohara delivers its own unique and extremely enjoyable combination of Mediterranean hospitality and flavors that you won’t find anywhere else. As a result, it has earned my highest rating of ***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***!

Visit their website at zohara.com for more information and then check them out for yourself this Friday and let us know what you think!

Tell them the Dark Diva sent you!

Friday Happy Hour Review: Bistro On Main In Manchester Gives Happy Hour A Delightful French Twist

October 23, 2018

The international part of our Happy Hour Tour continues this week with a review of Bistro On Main in Manchester. As you might infer, it features a French influence. It’s also unique from the standpoint that it’s actually “a social enterprise owned and operated by the Manchester Area Conference of Churches (MACC).” In addition to striving to create a unique guest experience, Bistro on Main also supports MACC Charities through its profits and helps at-risk individuals break the cycle of poverty “through transitional employment and work readiness training.” In fact, its theme is “Eat Good. Do Good.”

We applaud their efforts, but we don’t give anyone a free pass as far our Friday Happy Hour Review is concerned. Fortunately, as you may have gathered from the headline, they didn’t need one!

“Joie de vivre” May Not Be Listed On The Menu,
But It Was Served With Everything We Ordered

The wall behind the bar offers a unique welcome!

While I always hope for a good experience, I honestly have no idea what to expect when I visit a new Friday Happy Hour. Usually, my first impression comes from a quick scan of the environment and the bartender’s initial expression. The two combine to give a pretty accurate read of what the Happy Hour experience will be like. At Bistro on Main, the one thing that consistently came through, from first glance until I left, was what the French call “joie de vivre” or “the joy of living.”

Mary (L) and Amanda (R) lit up the bar with genuine smiles.

Perfectly aligned with my mental image of a bistro, it felt cozy and inviting with a nice wooden bar and open kitchen. That image extended to the radiant smile that Mary (my initial bartender) greeted me with as I sat down at the bar. Later, Amanda took over the bartending duties with just as big of a smile. (Sadly, we live in an increasingly angry world, so I truly appreciate smiling faces, especially when they may be the first smiles I’ve seen all day.)

I spent a good deal of time chatting with Mary about mixology before my friend Suzanne arrived to join me. Mary, and later Amanda, was extremely attentive and took exceptionally good care of us. Executive Chef Ben Dubow even came out and talked with us for bit. The whole time, they all gave the impression that they really liked being there and doing exactly what they were doing. That made Bistro On Main one of the most welcoming establishments I have visited.

A Good Selection Of “L’heura de l’apéro” Drink Deals
Deserves A Toast – “á ta santé!”

It was hot hot in the bar and my Chocolate Martini evaporated before I could take a picture. (I also have some swamp land for sale … haha)

Normally, I would have tacked on my usual toast of “Cheers!” However, that is bad luck in France, where the preferred toast is the informal “á ta santé!” which means “to your health!” And, in reality, that’s what you get when you have a relaxing drink that won’t unduly stress your budget. At Bistro On Main, Happy Hour well drinks are $5 as are select wines and the cocktail du jour, which in our case was a Chocolate Martini (made with New Amsterdam vodka, Crème de Cacao and milk). Of course, it was delicious (c’mon, it’s chocolate!)!

My friend’s Naughty Nurse IPA!

Suzanne and I had one Chocolate Martini each before diverging in our drink choices. She opted for the Naughty Nurse IPA ($5), which she rated highly, and I chose a well bourbon (Four Roses) and water (a 50/50 mix since I planned on having a glass of the Happy Hour red wine as well). Both drinks, as well as my wine, were enjoyable. I would, however, like to see Bistro On Main feature a few more special cocktails for Happy Hour, since they have some very intriguing options on the regular menu. It would be a great opportunity to further display their mixology creativity as well as complement their extraordinary Happy Hour food offerings.

 

“Délicieux plats de bar“ Is French For Delicious Bar Food,
But Rich Flavor Speaks A Universal Language

Escargot & Truffle Fries! YUM!

Under normal circumstances, I look at the drinks as the stars of Happy Hour, although good Happy Hour food is also important. At Bistro On Main, the Happy Hour menu selections were the main attraction! My friend Suzanne and I started off by sharing the $8 Escargot (Roasted snails with garlic herb butter) and the $6 Truffle Fries. Both were simply outstanding. While I had tried snail salad (and liked it) many years ago, this was the first time I had tried Escargot, and it was amazing with an interesting texture and an irresistible flavor. At the same time, the seemingly endless Truffle Fries were light and oh so addicting.

So we were hungry! At least I got a picture of one salmon roll!

Since everything was so good (and as a reviewer I like to be thorough), we tried two more selections from the Happy Hour menu – Salmon Rolls ($8) plus Mussels & Fries ($6). The three Salmon Rolls consisted of pieces of smoked salmon rolled up with arugula, microgreens and a rouille sauce. They disappeared very quickly.

The Mussels & Fries was basically a meal in itself!

The Mussels & Fries came in a large iron skillet with meaty mussels in a rich coconut red curry sauce that was to die for and topped with a huge mound of light, flavorful French fries. Together with the drinks, they provided the perfect accompaniment for spending quality time with a dear friend.

According to their web site, Bistro On Main is committed to using the freshest, highest quality ingredients from local, sustainable sources. From what we ate, I have no reason at all to doubt the veracity of that commitment. Based on my Happy Hour experience, I definitely want to return to Bistro On Main sometime soon for dinner. (As an aside, French bistros are noted for serving their version of comfort food. If this is French comfort food, then all I can say is “Viva la France!”)

***UNIQUEMENT RECOMMANDÉ***

Okay, so pardon my French, literally, but it seemed appropriate as a way of saying that Bistro on Main has easily earned my highest rating of ***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***! The atmosphere, service, drink menu and fabulous food, as well as its unique mission, elevate Bistro On Main to a unique level for Friday Happy Hour.

I totally recommend that you visit their web site at bistro-on-main.com to learn more and then check them out this coming Friday for Happy Hour to judge for yourself!

Tell them The Dark Diva sent you!

Friday Happy Hour Review: Plaza Azteca in Manchester Is The Perfect Venue To Make Your Own End Of The Week Fiesta

October 16, 2018

Traditionally, America has been a great melting pot of diverse cultures and their influences. And, from the Kosher deli to the sushi bar to the taco stand, food and drink are at the forefront of this melding to the point of being almost ubiquitous. They add variety to our lives and culture … and that includes Friday Happy Hour. Two weeks ago, I reviewed The Blue Elephant Trail in West Hartford (***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***), a Thai place, which offered a fresh Friday Happy Hour experience. This week, I went Mexican, for another refreshing departure, with my review of Plaza Azteca in Manchester.

*Fiesta – (Spanish for “festival” or “party”) … a celebration!

A Smiling Face Is Inviting
In Any Language

very friendly and very efficient!, Luis (my bartender at Plaza Azteca) was always smiling!

At the end of a long week, there’s nothing quite as inviting as a warm smile. It can put you in the right mood to celebrate the beginning of the weekend. Luis, my bartender at Plaza Azteca, was all smiles and made me feel welcome from the moment I sat down at the bar. Never intrusive, but always attentive, he kept a close eye out to see what I needed, was very responsive in answering question,s and made sure I got what I wanted. Luis was everything a really good bartender should be to get your fiesta started –- friendly and efficient.

Rating: Excellent (Excelente)!

Liquid Happiness That’s Easy to Understand
And Hard to Resist

Made with tequila, rum, passion fruit juice, orange juice and grenadine, the $5 Mexican Hurricane is a at least a Category 4 on the flavor scale. Just be careful not to overindulge and get blown away.

Potent and delicious, the $5 Happy Hour cocktails at Plaza Azteca in Manchester let the good times roll, Mexican style. I started with the Mexican Hurricane (tequila, rum, passionfruit juice, orange juice, grenadine), which was just sweet enough to be irresistibly tasty while also strong enough to blow away all the past week’s problems.

The $5 Small Skinny Margarita is my idea of the perfect Margarita – tequila, agave and lime juice and nothing else! (The sour mix that’s often used in Margaritas gives me instant heartburn.)

For my second drink, I went with the Small Skinny Margarita (tequila, agave, lime juice), which was the essence of what a Margarita should be in my opinion (which, since this is my blog, rules). I’ve never been fond of the Margarita or sour mix that most places use because it’s too sweet and gives me heartburn. This Margarita was simply “perfecto!”

One word of caution. Like many of the mixed drinks at most of the Happy Hours I’ve visited, these cocktails are as potent as they are delicious. *Please use caution – getting arrested for DUI or having an accident will ruin your fiesta pronto.

Rating: Excellent (Excelente)!

Feed The Need And Spice Up Your Fiesta Mood
With A Range Of Temptations

With selections at multiple price points (from $3 to $6), the Happy Hour food menu at Plaza Azteca offers a lot of variety, which really is the spice of life (especially in Mexican cuisine). I opted for the Taquitos (with chicken filling and no cheese per my request). Mildly spicy with tender chicken, the Taquitos were very tasty. Normally, I order two appetizers, but this one was satisfying filling. Definitely a good choice for your own personal fiesta!

Rating: Excellent (Excelente)!

 The Ambiance Is Comfortable
And Says “Welcome (Bienvenido)!”

Sure, the interior has the expected faux adobe and wood look that permeates the typical American version of a Mexican restaurant, but it’s done reasonably well here. The bar area is nice with dark wood and tile-look bar top that gives a cozy, inviting feel. It’s as authentic as it needs to be to create the illusion in Manchester that we’re enjoying a bit of Mexico and set the right mood for a little Friday Happy Hour celebration!

Rating: Good (Bueno)!

***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***

Plaza Azteca carves out its own niche in a crowded market with its well-done Mexican theme that has excellent consistency from the décor to the drinks to the food to the hospitality. Luis, the bartender, was the epitome of a gracious host with a warm smile and exceptional service. Friday Happy Hour had all the makings of my own little fiesta, so I give it my highest rating of ***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***!

Check out them out online for location and other information, then visit them in person and let me know what you think.

Tell them the Dark Diva sent you.

What’s on your mind? We welcome your comments and suggestions. Like the review? Agree? Disagree? Got a Friday Happy Hour you want us to review? Let us know.

Friday Happy Hour Review: Grant’s In West Hartford Reigns Supreme In This Bar Exam

October 9, 2018

The Best Bars Know There’s No Lifetime Appointment,
You Have To Make Your Case Every Day

Bartenders Harris (L) and Jackie (R) set an extremely high standard for service!

Really good bars know that success depends on never resting on your reputation. Instead, it has to be earned every day. Apparently, Billy Grant and his managers at Grant’s Restaurant & Bar in West Hartford understand this, starting with the most important keys to their success – the bartenders. As I often repeated in my reviews, your bartenders can make or break a Happy Hour (and the bar). Fortunately, I have consistently encountered good bartenders since starting my reviews. However, Jackie and Harris (my bartenders at Grant’s) took it to an even higher level. And, to be honest, it was all little things done right, which added up to a big impression.

They both greeted as soon as I walked in and saw that I had my choice of seats (it was the very beginning of Happy Hour). It was all smiles and friendly attitude as Jackie took my initial drink and food orders. When I asked Jackie if they put parmesan cheese on their Truffle Fries, she said they did, and I reacted negatively (cheese and I do not get along), so she immediately offered that make it without the parmesan. So, I ordered them that way. (Admittedly, that’s a small thing, but the fact that she said they could leave the parmesan off before I could ask was an astute, very customer-oriented approach which I truly appreciated.)

Later, when Harris was the bartender taking care of me, I asked whether they fried their Calamari lightly or very crispy. Without hesitation, he answered that they could fix them however I wanted. Again, it was answering my real question before I could ask it. I ordered them lightly fried and that’s how they came out.

As a result, I got exactly what I wanted, and I left with a very high opinion of Grant’s that can only come from experience.

Verdict: I give Grant’s a winning judgement for service based on the bartending evidence!

In The Case of Happy Hour Cocktails:
Liberal Selection Rules

As a mixologist, I expect a good Friday Happy Hour to feature a decent selection of interesting cocktails or at least a really good deal on well drinks. Again, Grant’s appears to understand this well with one of the best Happy Hour cocktail selections I’ve encountered to date. It’s telling that there were a number of them I wanted to come back just to try. Sadly, it will be a while since I have so many bars to review and so little time (as well as only one liver).

Grant’s Flirtini

For my first drink, I chose the Grant’s Flirtini (made with Absolut Raspberry, Lime & Cranberry Juice & Prosecco). Quite intriguing, it was an excellent mix of sweet and tart without being overpowering in either direction.

The Lady Pink was an interesting and very refreshing Happy Hour libation!

Needing to sample as many different drink options as possible (yet still drive home safely), I opted for the Lady Pink as my second and final cocktail.  The strawberry basil combination piqued my interest since I tried (and enjoyed) something remotely similar during my visit to Waypoint Spirits craft distillery back in July. This proved to be a different animal (strawberry infused Beefeaters Pink Gin, muddled basil, fresh lemon juice, club soda) that was still very refreshing and a nice departure from the usual cocktail.

Verdict: The case for superior drink selection and quality is supported by evidence that’s very easy to swallow.

In The Case of Happy Hour Food Selection:
Good Taste Prevails

While I have enjoyed some excellent food options at the various Happy Hours I’ve reviewed, Grant’s took it to a new level with everything I love – Oysters, Truffle Fries and lightly fried Calamari. I normally never order more than two food options at Happy Hour, but there were just too many irresistible options on Grant’s menu

I started with three perfectly large and tasty Oysters to go with a huge serving of to-die-for Truffle Fries (no parmesan). I swear that I could have made those my dinner. However, I also have a weakness for good Calamari (which is lightly fried). And Grant’s conspired to assure extra weight gain by making them all exactly as ordered and totally delicious.

Verdict: I submit my empty Calamari plate as reviewer’s exhibit one in a unanimous judgement in Grant’s favor!

In Judging Atmosphere,
Grant’s Hammers Home Its Case Impressively

From the outside, Grant’s patio creates a welcoming vibe, especially in transitional seasons like fall and spring. Inside, the huge bar with the hammered metal top offers a mix of classic elegance and comfortable casualness which appeals to a wide variety of folks. As I said earlier, it was very empty when I arrived, but filled up nicely before I left. I gathered there were a number of regulars (based on interaction with the bartenders) who dropped in, but never got any impression that they were more important than I was.

Grant’s bills itself as a long-time hot spot in downtown West Hartford and I find it hard to argue against that statement,

Verdict: I rule that this is  a really good atmosphere for Friday Happy Hour!

***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***

It is the non-partisan judgement of this  reviewer that Grant’s Restaurant & Bar shall be awarded ***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED*** status as meeting or exceeding all criteria for being an extraordinary Friday Happy Hour destination!

Check them out online here, then visit them and judge for yourself.

Tell them the Dark Diva sent you!

As always, we welcome your comments and suggestions.